Lock, stock and barrel
John Newth visits the Purbeck Shooting School and meets its owner, Graham Brown
Published in July ’14
Brought up in Wool, the son of a farm manager, Graham Brown discovered early that he had a natural gift not only for shooting but for teaching others how to shoot. After a spell working in retail in Somerset, he became manager of the Southern Counties Shooting Ground at Wardon Hill, near Evershot. He was ambitious to run his own business, though, and in 1995 grabbed the chance when Charborough Estates offered him some land off the Puddletown Road, north-west of Wareham, for a shooting school.
He started small, opening only on Sundays at first, with temporary planning consent. Meanwhile he worked in the construction industry by day and as a doorman in Poole by night, building up capital to pursue his dream of a full-time shooting school. Within seven years he had achieved his ambition and Purbeck Shooting School was fully established with permanent planning permission and a rapidly growing reputation.
The site now covers 38 acres and employs eight people, but the work to adapt it was all overseen by Graham – and much of it done by him, too. ‘We cut most of the gorse and bracken by hand because it gave me a chance to get to know the ground and allowed it to develop naturally,’ he says. It accommodates thirty ‘stands’ (where the shooter shoots from), although no more than half of them would be in use at any one time. They are designed so that the school can provide sporting and skeet shooting – two of the sub-divisions of clay target shooting.
The ‘clay’ targets are actually inert discs which are fired from a ‘trap’ at the shooter’s command. There are over one hundred traps on the site, which are topped up at the end of each day and which between them can simulate every type of bird or ground quarry. Within each stand is a series of buttons, each controlling one of half a dozen traps. The shooter can have someone press the buttons for him or, if he is on his own, he presses the button and there is an inbuilt delay to give him time to load and close his gun and get ready. The circuit that controls the traps is activated by a special plug which is obtained from the school’s reception and returned there afterwards; it incorporates a device which counts the number of times a button has been pressed, as charges are based on the number of targets released.
If you think of shooting as a sport for toffs only, a visit to Purbeck Shooting School will soon put you right. Its clients come from all classes and conditions of men and women, and from all over Southern England; one regular comes once or twice a week from the Isle of Wight. The standard ranges from beginners to members of the GB shooting team. Regulars join as members, paying an annual fee and receiving their clays at discounted prices. Visitors pay a one-off fee and for each clay released.
The school is used twice a year by the forensics department from Bournemouth University, whose students gain practical experience of different types and calibres
One of the most rewarding aspects of Graham Brown’s work is teaching the disabled to shoot. He says, ‘It is a sport in which they can take part on almost equal terms. Even blind people can shoot rifles, using a special audio sight which gives out a different tone when they are aiming at the target. It’s a fantastic privilege and very rewarding to open up the sport to disabled people, and often quite moving. We have a lad with Down’s Syndrome who comes here and is a phenomenal shot. He really looks forward to it.’
The school attaches a lot of importance to its programme for children. They not only learn about guns but are taken on wildlife walks to gain a sense of how the sport fits into the intricate pattern of the countryside. Graham believes that is valuable for personal development, too: ‘It doesn’t take children long to realise what a dangerous thing a gun can be,’ he says, ‘and you can watch them mature in their sense of responsibility towards the gun and towards those around them. They learn both that the sport is fun and that it can be dangerous.’
To minimise the dangers, Graham would like to see a stricter licensing system. ‘People who go out to shoot live quarry should be of a standard to do it confidently,’ he says. ‘At the moment anyone can get a licence as long as they can show that they are reasonably responsible and that the gun will be stored securely. Not only that, someone who has only just got a licence can be the official companion for a person without a licence, who can shoot as long as he or she is accompanied by a licence-holder. In most of Europe you have to pass a test on quarry identification, gun handling and accuracy before you get a licence, and we should go the same way.’
Graham is a widely respected figure in the world of shooting. He works closely with the body that controls the sport internationally and builds courses for major competitions – a course being a combination of targets thrown in a variety of ways and of differing standards of difficulty. The school also sells guns and shooting accessories and Graham specialises in designing stocks (the part that sits in the shooter’s shoulder) for those with special difficulties. Teaching a pupil and finding exactly the right gun go together: ‘It’s frustrating when we are training someone and they go off and are sold a gun that is wrong for them,’ says Graham. ‘We only sell a gun when I’m quite sure it’s right for the customer.’
Graham’s son and daughter, Sam and Jo, have joined him in the business, and their father’s ambition is to develop the school as a centre of educational excellence as well as a place for recreation. On a practical level he would like to add an indoor rifle range one day, but one senses that his heart lies in shotgun shooting; as he sums it up, ‘The challenge and thrill of shooting at something moving is immense.’ ◗